Emily Dickinson's life and poetry

Seminar Paper, 2001

22 Pages, Grade: 1 (A)




1800 - Samule Fowler Dickinson
1813 - The Homestead
1821 - The Founding of Amherst College

1828 - Edward Dickinson and Emily Norcross
1829, 1830 and 1833 - The children

1840 - The family lives on North Pleasant Street
1840 - Emily attends Amherst Academy
1847 - Emily attends Mt. Holyoke Seminary

1855 - Family moves back to the “Homestead”
1856 - Austin marries Susan
1857 - “The Evergreens”

1861 - The Civil War
1862 - Important Men in Emily´s life: Charles Wadsworth,
Thomas Higginson and Samuel Bowles
1865 - Emily travels to Boston 13

1874 - Edward Dickinson dies
1882 - Emily Norcross Dickinson dies

1886 - “Called Back”
1890 - First edition of poems is published

1955 - Emily´s original poems are published
1964 - The homestead is placed on the national historic register
1965 - Amherst College purchases the homestead




Emily Dickinson was born on 10 December 1830 in Amherst, in western Massachusetts, and died there on March 1886. Her parents were Edward Dickinson and Emily Norcross Dickinson. The family included three children: Austin, Emily, and Lavinia. Most of the famliy belonged to the Congregational Church, thou the poet herself never became a member. The Dickinsons were well-off and well-educated. Both Edward and Austin were college graduates, leaders in the community and of Amherst College. Edward dickinson was a Whig (later a Republican) representative to state and national legislatures. Emily had a strong secondary education and a year of college at South Hadley Female Seminary (later Mount Holyoke College).

The poet was born in, and died in, a house called the homestead, build by her grandfather Samuel Fowler Dickinson in 1813. This house was sold out of the family, however, in 1833, and not repurchased by Edward Dickinson till 1855. So the poets younger years were lived in other houses.

After her years at school, Emily Dickinson lived in the family home for the rest of her life. She cared for her parents in their later years and was a companion to her sister Lavinia, who also stayed “at home” for her entire life. Neither sister married. The extended ickinson family included Austin´s wife Susan Huntington Gilbert, who lived for many years next door in the house called The Evergreens, and Susan and Austin´s three children.

The myth of Emily Dickinson, of course, is Dickinson as a reclusive spinster-poet, brooding over a deep romantic mystery in her past. The realities are more mundane. Especially among relatively wealthy families in 19th-century Massachusette, it was far from unusual for grown women simply to keep house as a primary occupation, neither marring nor working outside the home. The thing that sets Dickinson apart from other women of her class and generation is simply her poetic gift, something attributable mor to nature and culture than to some emotional trauma.

We know much of Dickinson´s life through her correspondences. She maintained a lifelong correspondence with usan Dickinson, even though they were next-door neighbors. This correspondence, preserved by Susan, is the source for many of the poet´s manuscripts. But Emily Dickinson also corresponded with school friends, with her cousins Fanny and Loo Norcross, and with several people of letters, including Samuel Bowles, Dr. and Mrs. J.G. Holland, T.W. Higginson, and Helen Hunt Jackson.

The central events, then, of Dickinson´s life are those that are central to the life of most writers: she wrote. She compiled a manuscript recorded of 1.775 poems, along with many letters. In or around 1858 she began to keep manuscript books of her poetry, the “fascicles”, hand-produced and hand-bound. In the early 1860s she produced hundreds of poems each year. In 1864 and 1865, failing eyesight, which impelled her to make two extended visits to Cambridge, Massachusette for medical treatment, slowed her production of manuscipt books. But her production of manuscripts continued at a slower pace until her last illness in 1885-86.

Though she wrote hundreds of poems, Dickinson never published a book of poetry. The few poems published during her lifetime were anonymous. The reasons why she never published are still unclear. A myth promoted by William Luce´s play The Belle of Amherst (1976) is that Higginson discouraged her writing. However, it is propably not the case that Dickinson met with rejection from the literary world. For one thing, Higginson was instrumental in getting her poetry published soon after her death, suggesting, that her reluctance and not his disapproval was the barrier to him doing this earlier. Also, both Bowles and Hunt Jackson arranged for anonymous publication of individual poems by Dickinson during the poet´s lifetime. At Hunt Jackson´s suggestion, Thomas Niles of Roberts Brothers publishing house tried to get the poet to submit a volume of poems for publication in 1883; she declined.



Samuel Fowler Dickinson , Emily´s grandfather, was born in Amherst in 1775. After graduating from Dartmouth Law School at the age of 20, Samuel returned to Armherst to establish his law practice. Samuel was a strong believer in the power of education and in 1814 he founded Amherst Academy which was located just west of the corner of Pleasant and Amity Streets. Amherst Academy quickly became a leading educational institution in western Massachusetts. Among his many accomplishments Samuel Fowler ickinson was also very active in politics, serving several terms in local office and in the state legislatures.

In 1802 Samuel married Lucretia Gunn of Montague. This was his second marriage and together they had five children, two boys and three girls. Of the children, Emily´s father Edward was the eldest. Thoug he had a long and distinguished career in Amherst, Samuel died suddenly in April of 1838.


The Dickinson Homestead was build on Main Street in Amherst by Samuel Fowler Dickinson and is recognized as being the first brick home constructed in the town.


In addition to Amherst Academy, Samuel also had the vision to create a collegiate institution in Amherst. At the time, a search committee was the process of locating property for the proposed Williams College. When the proposal to bring Williams to Amherst was denied, Samuel worked to co-found Amherst College in 1821. The original name “College of Charitable Institution” was changed in February of 1825 to Amherst College.



Emily´s grandparents had nine children with the oldest beeing Emily´s father, Edward. As youth, Edward attended Amherst Academy and then went on to Yale for his Law Degree. In 1826, Edward was admitted to the bar, and set up his practice in downtown Amherst in a building that is now occupied by Phoenix Hall. Shortly after his return to Amherst, Edward quickly established himself as one of the towns foremost community leaders and as history notes, one of ist leading attorneys. One of his most noteable accomplishment within the town was the introduction of the railroad to Amherst. He was known around town as being hard working with a strict work ethic yet being sometimes impulsive. One anecdote tells of a certain September evening when he went to the church to ring the bells in order to alert others in the towm to what he considered a particularly brilliant sunset. In later years, Edward followed in his fathers footsteps by taking an appointment as Treasurer at Amherst College (a position that Emily´s older brother Austin later held as well) and also participating in stat and national political arenas.

Emily´s father also served in powerful positions on the General Court of Massachusetts, the Massachusetts State Senate, and the United States House of Representatives. He was admitted to practice law before the Supreme Court, an honour that set him apart from other local lawyers. It is not surprising, that Emily Dickinson stood in awe of her father, who was somewhat remote, as fathers of that time tended to be. He was a proselytizer for the Puritan ideals he himself had received as achild: moderation, hard work, the power of reason over passion, and the virtue of self-denial.

Edward married Emily Norcross on May 6, 1828. In his marriage proposal to Emily, he promised “a life of rationa happiness” and proceeded to set down the terms of his life, “My life must be a life of buisness, of labor and application tp the study of my profession.”


Excerpt out of 22 pages


Emily Dickinson's life and poetry
University of Frankfurt (Main)  (Institute for England and American Studies)
Emily Dickenson
1 (A)
Catalog Number
ISBN (eBook)
ISBN (Book)
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440 KB
Emily, Dickenson, Emily, Dickenson
Quote paper
Kathrin Haubold (Author), 2001, Emily Dickinson's life and poetry, Munich, GRIN Verlag, https://www.grin.com/document/16532


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